See more of our race!
2020 has become the year of virtual racing but Atlanta Track Club has pulled out all the stops, and safety efforts, to make racing in person possible, fun, unique, and safe! The PNC Atlanta 10 Miler normally runs through midtown Atlanta but, due to COVID restrictions, difficulties with social distancing, lack of city event permits, etc. no large events are taking place in Atlanta (nor should they). Atlanta track club has had to pivot much of their event efforts this year, moving most to virtual and/or "racing by reservation" on private properties. The Atlanta 10 miler was the largest ATC event to get the racing by reservation treatment, allowing people to choose between a new, unique in-person race experience or a virtual experience. This was the first in-person road race experience I've had since March 1 and ATC knocked it out of the park with the PNC Atlanta 10 Miler: Extreme Hill Edition.
- Location: Since mass gathering permits, shutting down public roads, paying for police presence, etc. is not possible at this time, Atlanta Track Club moved the 10 miler to the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in Braselton, GA (about 1 hr northeast of Atlanta). I'm not a fan of driving so far outside the city for an Atlanta-based race, but I couldn't pass up the opportunities to 1) support Atlanta Track Club, 2) race in person, and 3) run around a race track! The road course track meant lots of awesome sweeping turns, and HUGE hills (but this also meant there were some epic downhills!). The track itself, while pretty far outside the city, was easily accessible from a major highway. Since this was a "race by reservation", some friends and I signed up for the 9am start time, so we were able to leave ATL at a reasonable hour, and also not worry so much about running in the cold.
- Pre-race experience: since people were able to sign up for start times between 6:30am and 10:30am, arrival times at the track were staggered so there were no wait times to enter, park, health checks, packet pickup, bathrooms, etc. Upon entering the track, employees gave temperature checks and health waivers to everyone in the car and masks were required at all times on the grounds, except when running. Prerace instructions had requested folks to arrive no more than 45 minutes before their start time. We did end up arriving 90 minutes early but it was no issue. We parked easily, and used the restrooms without waiting in a line. There were no large banks of bathrooms like you normally see at races. Instead, there would be 1-2 bathrooms scattered together around the parking and start area, and on 2 places on the course. No waits since people were arriving at staggered start times. Genius. Before the race we received a google form to fill out declaring we were symptom-free, had not been exposed to someone with COVID within 14 days, etc. The usual questions these days. We showed that form confirmation in order to check-in and get our race number, assigned at check-in. Again, no lines. Next to the check in, they had a small gear store where you could buy the race shirt, ATC masks, etc. The general race registration included the course, timing, medal, swag bag, and snacks. Extra goodies, such as the shirt, could be purchased additionally. I really appreciate this "al la carte" type race experience because many times I do not like the shirt, won't wear it, don't need it, etc. This time, I opted to purchase the shirt because it included the (hopefully) one time only "Extreme Hill Edition" logo. The shirt was also the really nice Mizuno poly-blend material, offered in unisex and women's sizing. We walked to the start line on the track about 15 minutes ahead of time.
- The race experience: Once you crossed onto the track, the checked you in again and confirmed your name and start time. We were there a few minutes early and could have started with an earlier wave but opted to wait a few minutes for our friends to show up so we could start together. Each wave had up to 25 people. The runners lined up at cones in 3 lanes on the track, staggered 6 feet apart of course. It was as if we were little cars lined up to start the race; done out of necessity for social distancing but pretty cute/silly all the same. As someone who is 4'11" and feels very claustrophobic surrounded by folks at the start of races, I very much appreciated this start experience. Each wave started exactly on the 5 minute mark so we were off precisely at 9am.
The course itself was 3 times around the track, 2 long loops which included some extra turns on some inside service roads, and the last lap of the outer course. Since everyone was starting at different times they had a great lane system in place that kept everyone in the correct place of the track depending on their current lap. Basically, you started on the far inside of the track, were in the middle lane for the 2nd lap, and ended up on the far left by the finish. There obviously were no crowds cheering but they had several volunteers placed cheering and directing folks into the correct lanes. Also, you could hear the music and announcers over the PA system from anywhere on the loops. There were a couple port-o-potties scattered on the course, never with a line, and there was a self-serve aid station which we passed around mile 3.5 and 7.
They definitely were not kidding about the "extreme hill edition" but I felt it was actually must faster than expected. Most of the elevation was gained in 2 hills on the front half of the loop, which allowed for some really fast downhills on the second half. I ran up halfway and then fast hiked half of the 2 largest hills and then ran the rest of the course, ending up with a 10 mile PR on what was supposed to be a very difficult course. When we first drove into the track and saw the hills, it was very jarring and we laughed (A LOT) but once I was out there, it was really fun and not nearly as bad as expected (but beauty is in the eye of the beholder lol).
Once finishing the race, there was the typical water and Powerade bottles (again self-serve, with volunteers monitoring but not touching), and then you received the swag bag which was already pre-packed with snacks, medal, and some other goodies. Atlanta Track Club referred to the whole race experience as a "touchless" experience. I would say it was a physically touchless experience with plenty of personal ATC touches.
While I hope we can be back to our regularly scheduled programming for next year's race, this experience was really fun and unique. I hope that once larger races come back (and I hope they do), that these types of touchless, race by reservation experiences are still offered. I think they provide a great opportunity to continue doing what we all love, while providing a low-stress, safe environment. Kudos to Atlanta Track Club for making lemonade out of lemons.